At one time ‘harvest time’ used to mark a pause between the plenty of Summer and the long, hard road through Winter. Today we expect food not in “due season”, but in plenty at any time and at the right price.
The last sixty years have seen food engineers working alongside agronomists, chemical engineers, biologists and many others to radically increase the intensity of modern farms. Food engineers working with transport and logistics specialists have found new ways of harvesting, storing and transport food.
Where once only the exotic came from distant lands, now even the peas in a local supermarket can be grown in Kenya, chilled, packed and shipped to arrive fresh just days later. Changes in taste and society demand a greater variety of food, more convenience in product and packaging: and above all a lower cost. So food engineers have worked with production and control engineers, food technologist and others to automate production, packaging, and even the delivery of food to the customer.
In contrast, in many Western countries, people are increasingly questioning both the pace and the direction of the progress of the last 60 years. Many Western consumers are deliberately seeking more local and seasonal food. Farmers’ markets and the growing industry of food artisans speak of a desire to return to a simpler, more human relationship with the food we grow, eat and throw away.
So food engineers today face two challenges: one to spread the successes of the last 60 years to feed a global, richer and more urban society. The other to reduce the cost and impact of that global food chain. Meeting both challenges requires a new generation of food engineers, who we train at Leeds Beckett University. We can also draw on the unique expertise of our university’s Retail Institute, the UK’s only research group dedicated to the retail sector.
We can never return to what once was; we simply cannot afford to. But we can learn new skills and develop new industries around food engineering to ensure that we bring future harvests home.
This content is sponsored by Leeds Beckett University. For more information on the BSc (Hons) Food Engineering at Leeds Beckett University visit http://courses.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/foodengineering